Journal of Synchrotron Radiation

Volume 16, Part 2 (March 2009)

short communications

J. Synchrotron Rad. (2009). 16, 310-313    [ ]

A note on medieval microfabrication: the visualization of a prayer nut by synchrotron-based computer X-ray tomography

P. Reischig, J. Blaas, C. Botha, A. Bravin, L. Porra, C. Nemoz, A. Wallert and J. Dik

Abstract: One of the most fascinating objects in the Rijksmuseum (Amsterdam, The Netherlands) is an early 16th century prayer nut. This spherical wooden object measures 4 cm in diameter and consists of two hemispheres connected with a small hinge so that it can be opened. The interior of the nut holds wood carvings with scenes from the life of Christ. These miniature reliefs show an incredible degree of finish with carving details well beyond the millimetre scale. In the present paper it is shown how synchrotron-based computer X-ray tomography revealed the structure and fabrication method of the bead. The central part of the relief was cut from a single piece of wood, rather than assembled from multiple components, underlining the extraordinary manual dexterity of its maker. In addition, a piece of fibrous material contained in the inner structure of the bead is revealed. This may have served as a carrier for an odorous compound, which would be in line with the religious function of the prayer nut.

Keywords: X-ray tomography; tomography reconstruction; cultural heritage; prayer nut; wood.

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Volume reconstructions

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Volume reconstructions


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